After 70 years, ageless wonder Red Farmer still racing – and winning

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The only thing more amazing than legendary short-track racer Red Farmer continuing to race regularly at the age of 84 is that he continues to win.

Recently named one of 20 nominees for the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2018, Charles “Red” Farmer is doing anything but slowing down in his golden years.

Instead of sitting in a rocking chair, he’s behind the wheel of his Late Model and still putting racers 60 or more years younger than him to shame.

Farmer’s favorite track – and one he competes on most weekends from April to October – is the Talladega Short Track, a 1/3-mile dirt track across the street from Talladega Superspeedway.

“I look forward to Saturday every week because I know I’m going to go and race in my car and run,” Farmer told NBC Sports.

But don’t think that because of his age, Farmer is a start-and-park driver.

Farmer finished third in the standings last season at Talladega Short Track. He led the points the first 10 weeks before he had to skip a couple of races. Had he not missed those two races, he likely would have won the track championship.

Two weeks ago, Farmer won a qualifying heat race at Talladega Short Track, just three days after undergoing a heart procedure.

When he was discharged from the hospital on a Wednesday, his doctor told Farmer not to drive anything for 48 hours. Obviously, his doctor forgot Red was a racer, Farmer said, laughing as he related the tale.

“But they didn’t say nothing about me racing on Saturday night,” Farmer chuckled.

So what happened?

“I won the heat race, had a front row starting spot in the feature, but I didn’t think running the whole race would be too smart,” Farmer said. “I had a little bit of pain in there when they had the tube in me.

“They said if I started bleeding again, that I’d have to go to the emergency room. I hated to give up the front row start because the car was so good, but I let a buddy of mine – Chris Mullenix – drive for me. They put him to the rear. It was hard to give up. That’s the way racing goes. Sometimes, it doesn’t wind up like you want it to.”

Farmer then described the heart procedure he underwent in another humor-filled manner.

“I had two oil lines that were (blocked) 50 percent – that’s what I call ‘em – and I got a burnt valve in my heart,” he said of his arteries and heart. “They said the two oil lines that were plugged up about 50 percent was not enough to put a stent or anything like that; they have to be worse.

“So I figure that at 84, almost 85 years old and I only have 50 percent blockage, I’m in pretty good shape.”

ONE OF THE MOST REVERED RACERS

Farmer is an iconic racer. He’s enshrined in several Halls of Fame, including the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, the Dirt Track Hall of Fame, Living Legends of Auto Racing in Daytona Beach and the Jacksonville Hall of Fame.

“They’ve all been great honors,” Farmer said.

But the biggest honor Farmer feels he’s ever received was “when I was voted one of the 50 Greatest Drivers in NASCAR history in its 50th year (1998). That was quite an honor to be in that top 50.

One of Red Farmer’s hero cards. (Courtesy Talladega Superspeedway)

“I look back at that list now, and I think there was only one guy I never raced against, and that was Red Byron, who won the first NASCAR championship in 1948. But he quit in 1951 or 1952, and I started in 1953.

“But all the other great drivers in there – Lee and Richard Petty, Buck and Buddy Baker, Junior Johnson, Ralph Moody and all those guys that made that 50 Greatest Drivers list, I raced against all of them at one time or another. It was quite an honor, it really was.”

But soon, Farmer potentially could earn what would be the biggest honor of his 70-year racing career: possible induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“It was a great honor to be able to get in that top 20, that short list,” Farmer said. “I’ve been a NASCAR member since 1953 when I ran out on the beach course in Daytona. There’s an awful lot of good people on that list, that’s for sure.”

“This would probably be the ultimate. It’s like the star on top of the Christmas tree. It’s a great honor to be in the other Halls of Fame, but this one here (NASCAR Hall of Fame) is the ultimate. It’d be a big honor if I get elected.”

While he’d welcome induction into NASCAR’s Hall, it would be sweeter if something else also happened.

“The only thing that would make it better is if Davey (Allison) and myself both got in it together at the same time,” Farmer said. “That would be unbelievable, really.”

Farmer and Davey Allison, son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison, were very close. Farmer was injured in the same helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway that claimed Davey Allison’s life in July 1993.

https://youtu.be/JG_9swOheqg

Like Farmer, Davey Allison is in his first year as a NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee.

“Davey was like a second son to me, and I worked as his crew chief and car chief for about eight or nine years in the (Busch) Series,” Farmer said. “That would probably be the ultimate right there, if me and Davey both went in together. But if we don’t, I hope he gets in anyway, and maybe I’ll get in later. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

SWEET HOME ALABAMA

Farmer still lives in Hueytown, Alabama, about an hour west of Talladega, in the same house he’s lived in over 54 years.

The love of Red’s life, wife Joan, died in June 2015, a week after the couple celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary.

But family is still at the center of Red’s life, as he races regularly with grandsons Lee and Matt Burdett at Talladega Short Track.

“This year starts my 70th year of racing,” Farmer said. “I started driving in 1948, so I’ve been racing for 70 years. I just love it.”

Red Farmer was one of the many NASCAR legends honored during the 50th Daytona 500 in 2008. (Getty Images)

Why does he keep racing?

“It’s hard to explain unless you are a driver, but it’s like people that get up with playing golf or bowling or hunting, anything that they really love to do,” Farmer said. “I’m still competitive, that’s the main thing. As long as I can be competitive and race with those youngsters.

“It’s just something I love to do. I go out to the garage every day at 8:30 in the morning and work on my cars until about 5:30 in the afternoon. I have three cars in my race shop that I work on. I still love working on the cars, going out there and racing and trying to keep up with all these youngsters. It’s just something in my blood that I love to do.”

How long will Farmer keep racing?

“As long as I’m competitive and still have good health, I’m going to run,” he said.“I don’t have a timetable, but I figure if the time’s right, then I’ll quit.”

A DIFFERENT CAREER COURSE

Farmer was part of NASCAR’s original Alabama Gang that came out of Hueytown in the mid-1960s, along with brothers Bobby and Donnie Allison.

“When we were running as the Alabama Gang with Bobby and Donnie, back in the 60’s, we ran 106 races in one year,” Farmer said. “We were pulling the cars all over in an open trailer behind a pickup truck and we ran all over the country.”

Red Farmer, Bobby Allison and Donnie Allison pose with Evander Holyfield and NASCAR Legend Richard Petty at Daytona International Speedway in 2009. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Although Bobby and Donnie took to the Grand National Series, Farmer decided to do what he did best – race on short tracks.

How many races Farmer has won in 70 years varies widely. Because records weren’t as well-kept as they are today, estimates of Farmer’s trips to victory lane range between 600 to more than 900 wins. And then there are countless match races he won.

And though he competed in just 36 NASCAR Grand National races (0 wins, 2 top-fives and one other top-10) in his career, his legendary NASCAR short-track prowess landed him on the 50 Greatest Drivers of NASCAR list in 1998 and also contributed to his NASCAR Hall of Fame nomination.

Farmer, whose age has often been in dispute, said he was born in 1932. He drove in his first race in 1948 – and has been going virtually nonstop ever since.

“My first race was Opa-locka, Florida in 1948, on an abandoned Air Force base,” Farmer recalled. “There were two parallel landing strips. We’d run down to the end of one, turn left and go through the dirt and grass, get on the other strip and run down to the other end and turn left again on the grass and dirt. They eventually made it a real racetrack two years later.

“That’s where we started. We just kind of made our own racetrack.

“I remember that first race still. I flipped the car twice, rolled it over, landed on four wheels and kept on running and finished the race. That was some of the most fun I’ve ever had. It got in my blood, and I’ve been doing it for another 70 years.”

Farmer isn’t the only octogenarian still racing. “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and Chris Karamesines both still are drag racing part time at the ages of 85. Garlits is involved in electric-powered dragsters that approach 200 mph, while Karamesines still can hit 300 mph in his NHRA Top Fuel dragster.

One of Red Farmer’s hero cards. (Courtesy Talladega Superspeedway)

Racing keeps them all feeling young, Farmer said.

“I’ve got a saying that I came up with: ‘How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?’ ” Farmer said. “Seriously, if you didn’t have a birth certificate and didn’t know old you was, how old would you be? In other words, it’s a state of mind and how you feel about yourself.

“I’ve seen people that are young at 75 and old at 65. I still think that if you don’t have a goal to accomplish or something that you really look forward to, like I do every Saturday night to get out on that racetrack and run, if you’ve got no goals you get older a lot quicker.

“My other saying is, ‘I’m going to wear out, not rust out.’”

SOME OF FARMER’S BEST CAREER STORIES

Farmer has an uncanny memory. Here are some of his favorite stories of his career:

Three NASCAR Champions pose with their trophies at the NASCAR awards banquet. Ralph Earnhardt (L) was the National Sportsman champion, Fred Meeker (C) was the Midget Division titlist and Charles “Red” Farmer (R) was the National Modified champion. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

— “I won my first NASCAR championship, the Modified Championship, in 1956. And you know who stood up at the banquet with me at Daytona and won the Sportsman Championship that same year was Ralph Earnhardt (father of Dale and grandfather of Dale Jr.). And then, back in 1990, I had a match race with Dale Earnhardt. That was the year he won the Winston 500, the IROC race and the sportsman race (all on the same weekend at Talladega Superspeedway). And the only race he lost was Friday night in a match race against me at the dirt track.”

— “I won the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman championship in 1969, 1970 and 1971. I said that was enough for me, four national championships was quite an accomplishment, which I never had an idea I’d ever do. I told Jack Ingram, ‘You take over from here,’ and he won the next three (championships in 1972-74).”

— “I was basically a short-track driver. I didn’t follow NASCAR’s Grand National much like Bobby and Donnie did. But I also won two ARCA 500s at Talladega in 1984 and 1988 and I won Daytona in 1971. So, I won on two of the biggest racetracks in the country, even though I was a short-track driver. I also ran fourth in the Talladega 500 (1972) in a (Grand National) car I built here in the backyard.”

— “One race I wanted to win bad was the Daytona (Late Model) race and I finally won the Permatex 300 in 1971. It was a very special race because my mother (Florence O’Neil) was there for the first race she’d ever been at Daytona. She didn’t travel that much or follow my racing, but she was there when I won and it was on her birthday, February 13, and she got to go to victory circle. I think that’s the biggest race I’ve ever won, to win it on my mother’s birthday.”

— “Everybody always asks me why I didn’t follow what Bobby and Donnie (Allison) did, but back in those days, if you didn’t have a factory sponsor or something like that, you were an also-ran. You’d be lucky to run in the top 15 if you were an independent. I didn’t have the big factory sponsorship, but I was not going to be a backburner, one of them start-and-park cars. I didn’t want to run 30th in a 35-car field and say I was a NASCAR Cup driver. I would rather go out on a short track and win a 30-lap feature and win the race rather than being a backburner. That’s why I didn’t do it. I went back to short track races and won all over the country. I’d rather go out and win at places like Huntsville, Montgomery, Birmingham and run on Friday and Saturday nights – and win races, too. That’s what I was there for, to win races. Second place was like kissing your sister, it don’t do nothing for you.”

— “I had a match race here a few years ago against Kasey Kahne. We were going to run three dashes, like five-lap races. Whoever won two of them was named the champion. I won the first one after I started on the pole, and he was on the outside pole. Then the next race, he won the pole, and I started on the outside pole, and I won that one, too. When I won the first two, we didn’t even run the third one.”

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Harrison Burton looks for progress in second year in Cup

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Harrison Burton made the first start of his NASCAR Cup Series partnership with the Wood Brothers in the bright lights of Los Angeles.

Burton and the Woods teamed last season as Burton jumped into full-time Cup racing after two full seasons (and four wins) in the Xfinity Series. Their first race was the Clash at the Coliseum, and it was a good start — Burton qualified for the feature and finished 12th on the lead lap.

Then things headed downhill. Crashes at Daytona and Auto Club Speedway left Burton with finishes of 39th and 33rd, respectively. After the first five races of the year, he had four finishes of 25th or worse.

Now, Season Two, and there are higher expectations. Much higher.

MORE: Drivers to watch in Clash at the Coliseum

“The start of last year was really, really rough,” Burton told NBC Sports. “It kind of put us in a hole. We got into the wreck in the 500 and crashed at Fontana. Things kind of stack up on you, and all of a sudden you’re buried in points and it’s hard to make it back up.

“But, at the end of the year, three of the last four weekends were big for us (three consecutive top-20 finishes). We need to build off that and try to get out of the West Coast swing and have a clean group of those races. That’s really important. We need to get our average finish up in the first four to five races and not put ourselves in a hole we can’t get out of, and then go from there.”

The Wood Brothers team typically brings strong cars to the Daytona 500, the season’s first point race. Trevor Bayne scored the team’s latest win in stock car racing’s biggest event in 2011.

“We ran well in the 500 last year until I was upside down,” Burton said. “We had a fast car and qualified well and finished third in our duel. Then in the second Daytona race we put ourselves in good position late, so we were in contention in both Daytona races. The speed was there, and the cars drove well.”

The team’s primary goal is to make the playoffs, Burton said. “And we want to be a contender,” he said. “Cup races are so hard. First, you have to contend. Having a good average finish is really important. If you average around 17th or 18th all year, you can kind of point your way into the playoffs, and doing that is on our minds for sure.”

MORE: Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

Burton looks for a strong start in Sunday’s Clash, which will present teams with a mix of the old and the new. Drivers got the experience of racing inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum last year, and notes from that race will be useful, but the racing surface will be all new again.

“Every repave has a different tendency,” Burton said. “We’ll see how close it is to last time and how different. Obviously, there is experience on that track, but still it’s a completely new surface, so it’s going to be a mixture of old and new. There’s some knowledge we can build off of, but we kind of have to go into the weekend with that knowledge as tentative because we don’t know if the track is going to be different.”

Burton heads for Los Angeles with a win already under his belt this year. He and teammate Zane Smith, last year’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, won last Friday’s International Motor Sports Association’s Michelin Pilot Challenge Series race on the Daytona International Speedway road course.

Burton drove the finishing laps in the four-hour race. He was third with about 50 minutes to go but moved in front with 22 minutes left when leader Elliott Skeer parked. Burton outran second-place Spencer Pumpelly by .688 of a second for the win.

“I thought we could run well,” Burton said. “After the test we did, we were really fast, so I was pretty excited. But apparently there is a lot of sandbagging that goes on there, so I wasn’t sure where we were. We had to have some things go right for us, and they did.”

 

 

 

 

Dr. Diandra: Muffling racecars won’t change fan experience

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Last week, NASCAR tested the muffler that will be used for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum.

“Heresy,” some fans cried. They argued that it is against the laws of man and nature to muffle racecars. That noise is an integral part of the fan experience. That you’re not supposed to be able to have conversations during races.

Relax.

The cars will be plenty loud.

Loud is fast

Engines produce power by combusting fuel and air in their cylinders. Each combustion produces high-pressure gases that push the piston up. The same gases make a loud popping sound when they escape the cylinder and finally the exhaust.

At 8,000 rpm, an eight-cylinder engine performs about 520 combustions every second. The faster an engine runs, the more combustions per second and the higher the frequency of the tailpipe noise.

That’s why NASCAR engines sound like grizzly bears and F1 engines, which run at higher speeds, sound more like angry mosquitoes.

Maximum horsepower requires getting the spent gases out of the cylinder as quickly as possible so the next combustion reaction can start. And that’s the problem with mufflers, from a racing perspective.

Mufflers on street cars bounce sound waves from the engine around a metal can. The waves interfere with each other, which decreases the overall volume coming from the exhaust.

Mufflers can also mitigate noise by directing the exhaust through a sound-absorbing material. Borla, the sole-source supplier for this weekend’s muffler, makes commercial racing mufflers that feature a robust sound-absorbing material superior to the commonly used fiberglass.

Both methods slow the exhaust gases — the first more than the second. The ideal racing muffler diminishes sound with minimal horsepower reduction.

Decibels

Sound-level measurements come in decibels (dB), a unit named after Alexander Graham, not Christopher — and apparently by someone who wasn’t the best speller.

But decibels don’t tell the whole story. Sound intensity decreases with distance, so you need to specify how far away the sound source was.

The easiest way to explain the decibel scale is to relate it to real-world noises, as I’ve done below.

A bar chart showing representative sound levels expressed in decibels.

  • Zero dB is the threshold of human hearing.
  • A whisper you can just barely make out is about 20 dB.
  • Most everyday noises are in the 60 dB to 100 dB range but are sometimes louder.
  • Exposure to 130 dBs can be painful.
  • A 150-dB sound can cause permanent hearing damage in a very short time.

Ringing in your ears the day after a rock concert was a badge of honor in high school. Older me wishes I had been a little smarter.

Hair cells — not to be confused with ear hair — facilitate hearing. Sound bends these hair-shaped cells, and the cells convert sound into electrical signals that the brain interprets. Loud sounds can bend these cells so much that they break.

Unlike animals such as sharks, zebrafish — and even the lowly chicken — humans cannot grow new hair cells. Once your hearing is damaged, you can’t get it back.

How loud are racecars?

A noise mitigation study for the proposed Nashville Fairgrounds track measured a single Next Gen car at COTA generating 112 dB on a straightaway at 100 feet.

A 2008 study measured the sound level inside a Gen-6 car to be an average of 114 dB. The study also compared sound in the stands, the infield and the pits.

Let’s add those numbers to our graph.

A bar chart showing representative sound levels expressed in decibels, including sound measurements from the Gen-6 and Next Gen cars

  • The Next Gen car at 100 feet is about the same loudness as a person screaming at top volume 1 inch from your ear.
  • The Next Gen car at 100 feet is just a bit quieter than sitting inside the Gen-6 car.
  • Bristol reached peak sound levels loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage.

The graph data suggests that inside the Next Gen car should be around 10 times louder than inside the Gen-6. Some drivers made new earmolds to cope with the additional noise in the cockpit.

Because of the way sound works, the numbers don’t add like you’d expect them to. A Next Gen car might be 112 dB, but two Next Gen cars are more like 115 dB. A full field would be only 5-7 dB louder.

The mufflers won’t muffle much

NASCAR expects a six to 10-dB reduction in sound with mufflers. A 10-dB reduction would make the Next Gen car about as loud as the Gen-6 car was.

Another way of looking at it: Good earplugs reduce sound levels by 25 to 30 dB. Wearing earplugs just barely gets you into the range of being able to hold a conversation if you stand very close to each other and you both shout.

You won’t notice the change in sound inside the track.

You also won’t notice a change in speed this weekend, despite a drop of 30-40 horsepower. The Next Gen car takes around 14 seconds to traverse the L.A. Coliseum’s quarter-mile track. That means cars won’t be going much faster than typical expressway speeds.

If you’re headed out to the track this weekend — despite the mufflers — bring earplugs or over-the-ear headsets. This is especially important for children, as their hearing is more easily damaged.

Joe Gibbs Racing adds young racers to Xfinity program

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Connor Mosack, 23, and Joe Graf Jr., 24, each will drive select races in the No. 19 Xfinity Series car for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

Mosack, who has a 20-race Xfinity schedule with Sam Hunt Racing this year, will run three races for JGR: Chicago street course (July 1), Pocono (July 22) and Road America (July 29) while also competing in six ARCA Menards Series races for JGR, including Feb. 18 at Daytona.

Graf, who has a 28-race Xfinity schedule with RSS Racing this year, will run five races in the No. 19 Xfinity car for JGR: Auto Club Speedway (Feb. 25), Las Vegas (March 4), Richmond (April 1), New Hampshire (July 15) and Kansas (Sept. 9).

“I made my Xfinity Series debut with JGR last June at Portland and from the moment I made my first lap in their racecar, I realized why they’ve been so successful,” Mosack said in a statement. “Their equipment was second to none and the resources they had in terms of people and their knowledge was incredible.

“Jason Ratcliff was my crew chief at Portland and he’s got a ton of experience. I was able to learn from him before we even went to the track. Just in our time in the simulator, we made some great changes. So, to be back with him for three Xfinity races is going to be really valuable.

“And when it comes to JGR’s ARCA program, it’s the class of the field. After having to race against JGR cars, I’m really looking forward to racing with a JGR car. No matter what track they were on, they were always up front competing for wins. To have that chance in 2023 is pretty special, and I aim to make the most of it.”

Said Graf in a statement about his opportunity with JGR: “Running five races with JGR is a fantastic opportunity for myself and for my marketing partners. I think I can learn a lot from JGR and showcase my skills I’ve been growing in the series in the past three years. 2023 is shaping up to be a great year and I’m pumped to get started with the No. 19 group.”

Ryan Truex has previously been announced as the driver of the No. 19 Xfinity Series car in six races this season for JGR. The remaining drivers for the car will be announced at a later date.

Mosack didn’t start racing until he was 18 years old. He went on to win five Legends car championships before moving to Late Model stock cars in 2019. He graduated from High Point University in 2021 with a degree in business entrepreneurship. Mosack’s first Xfinity Series race with Sam Hunt Racing this season will be March 11 at Phoenix Raceway.

 

NASCAR weekend schedule for Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

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NASCAR’s winter break ends this weekend as Cup Series drivers return to the track for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

The second Clash at the LA Memorial Coliseum has been expanded to 27 (from 23) drivers for the 150-lap main event. Qualifying, heat races and two “last chance” races will set the field.

MORE: Drivers to watch in the Clash

Joey Logano won last year’s Clash, the perfect start to a season that ended with him holding the Cup championship trophy.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Cup)

Weekend weather

Saturday: Mostly sunny. High of 71.

Sunday: Partly cloudy. High of 66.

Saturday, Feb. 4

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 2 – 11:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 6 – 8 p.m. — Cup Series practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8:35 – 9:30 p.m. — Cup Series qualifying (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Feb. 5

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. – 12:30 a.m. Monday — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 5 – 5:45 p.m. — Four Heat races (25 laps; Fox, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 6:10 – 6:35 p.m. — Two Last chance qualifying races (50 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8 p.m. — Feature race (150 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)